May 25, 2011 5:00 PM | Michael Rose
Ever since the behemoth that is Minecraft starting eating all the monies in the world, other developers - both indie and AAA alike - have been trying to work out what the heckers makes it so popular. Then there are those developers who have decided to take it a step further and make their own Minecraft, with success-bearing results.
Anyone who tells you that Terraria is not a 2D Minecraft clone is either a) a huge Terraria fanboy, or b) a bit dense. The game never admits its roots, yet never tries to conceal them either, from its blocky world to its crafting system to its enemies coming out at night... everything screams Minecraft. But then, Terraria also builds on the 3D original, adding tons of its own ideas and, of course, featuring a whole new side-on perspective.
In doing this, Terraria has actually managed to better its inspiration. Indeed, Terraria is not simply 2D Minecraft - it's far better than that, and my 20+ hours of play, coupled with numerous late nights of 'just one more descent', are proof of that.
For those yet to try Terraria: We're talking a mining game, in which you dig into the depths of a randomly generated world, hunting precious metals, secret caverns and materials that can be crafted into useful and exciting items.
So far, so Minecraft. However, the differences don't just come in what Terraria adds to the original concept - it is, in fact, the new 2D prespective that gives the game a whole new feel. Whereas Minecraft sees you digging into the depths, using torches and first-person vision to scope out your surroundings, Terraria lets you take in whole areas at once, allowing for far more fluid and action-packed scenes to unfold.
Being able to see everywhere around you at the same time makes the concept feel so much more accessible. You'll see enemies coming up from behind, and run screaming in the opposite direction. You'll eye treasure down below and race to get it before your friends do. There's still that tense feeling of claustrophobia and horror about it as you dig deep, but now lots of other emotions can come flooding out too.
What Terraria then does is reach Minecraft's bar, and storm on ahead. There's so much to see, do and make, and you'll wonder how the developers expect you to see it all in the short timeframe that is your life. I've now been playing for over 20 hours, and have seen many exciting things - and yet, I read the Terraria wiki and find that I have crafted about a tenth of the available items, and not yet even witnessed whole areas of the game.
There are dungeons to explore, floating islands to climb up to, lava-ridden hell levels to scurry madly around, corrupted segments that spread if you don't stop them, underground jungles to discover, lakes that hold glorious treasures at the bottom... and most of these you won't even find in your first 10 hours of play.
Terraria, in a nutshell, is bloody huge. Myself and two friends have been exploring a single world for the last week now, and we're still finding new and exciting things to do. Note that when we created the world, we chose 'Small' at the size. There's also Medium and Large too. Erk. In fact, why not check out our world below - here it is in PNG format:
See that thin grey line sprouting up from the land in the middle? That's our headquarters housing all our NPCs (more on them later). To the left you can see the dungeon marked in purple (we're still to beat it), and The Corruption to the right, seeping slowly away at the land. Underneath that is the underground jungle, and at the very bottom is the fiery depths of the world.
Zoom in on the pic and you'll see, just beneath our HQ, all the different routes we've dug out. You'll notice we've barely scratched the surface, and that's in over 20 hours of teamwork-based digging.
Now, to the NPCs. As you satisfy specific challenges, characters will move into houses that you build for them on the surface, and offer their services to you. The nurse heals wounds, while the demolitionist hands out dynamite. You really can build your own living village on the surface, and it will feel like home. The safety we feel when hidden away in our well-lit hallways at night-time is so satisfying.
But the best bit about Terraria is the random events that occur. We'll be digging away, minding our own business, and suddenly... 'a goblin army is approaching'! Or 'something is watching us...'. A multitude of different happenings pop up in the corner, from huge boss battles to meteorite crash-landings. It's worth playing Terraria just for those moments. I won't spoil them - you need to experience them yourself.
Now, after all this gushing, let me make one thing clear - Terraria will not destroy Minecraft, nor the other way around. These two games can live comfortably together, offering experiences that the other cannot. Yet, for me, Terraria is now the better game, and easily the first Minecraft clone to actually get it right.
The game is $10/£6 on Steam, and as with Minecraft, is seeing regular content updates, such as new things to craft and new items to discover. It's been in the top five top sellers on Steam since release, and most days can be found at number one. Whether you like Minecraft or not, I heavily suggest you try this one out with a couple of friends. Get digging.